Coastal erosion threatens tourism

News from Cuba | Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Caribbean at high risk from climate change

A study conducted by Cuban scientists has found that rising sea levels may cause severe damage to 122 Cuban towns, or wipe them out completely by 2100.

According to Jorge Álvarez, who directs Cuba's Centre for Environmental Control and Inspection, "The government ... realised that for an island like Cuba, long and thin, protecting the coasts is a matter of national security."

The report notes that the country must perform a complicated balancing act, addressing the needs of those living in coastal homes and continuing to support its $2.5 billion-a-year tourism industry, while taking swift action to preserve and expand sand dunes and mangrove swamps that provide the best natural protection against rising seas.

Without drastic action, beaches will be submerged, freshwater sources tainted and croplands rendered infertile. In all, seawater could penetrate up to 1.2 miles (2 kilometres) inland in low-lying areas, as oceans rise nearly three feet (85 centimetres).

In recent months, inspectors and demolition crews have begun fanning out across the island with plans to raze thousands of houses, restaurants, hotels and improvised docks in a race to restore much of the coast to something approaching its natural state.

With its coastal towns and cities, the Caribbean is one of the regions most at risk from a changing climate. Hundreds of villages are threatened by rising seas, and more frequent and stronger hurricanes have devastated agriculture in Haiti and elsewhere.

Since 2000, Cuba has had a coastal protection law on the books that prohibits construction on top of sand and mandates a 130-foot-wide (40-meter) buffer zone from dunes. Structures that predate the measure have been granted a stay of execution, but are not to be maintained and ultimately will be torn down once they're uninhabitable.

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